CIPD & TUC respond | Gov's sexual harassment proposals would require employers to be more proactive

Gov's sexual harassment proposals would require employers to be more proactive

The Government has set out proposals to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace – including a new duty on employers which requires them to prevent sexual harassment.

This news comes after the Government published its response to a 2019 consultation on all forms of workplace harassment – including sexual harassment.

Within this, the Government’s response highlights various ways that seek to protect employees at work.

What proposals will include

Government proposals include the introduction of a new proactive duty on employers which requires them to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, as well as creating explicit protections from harassment by third parties.

It also says it hopes that this - introducing this duty - will encourage employers to take positive proactive steps to foster a safer work environment – a move that HR will likely have to be involved with.

In addition to this, the Government said it will support the Equality and Humans Rights Commission to produce a statutory code of practice, while also looking at extending the time limit for bringing Equality Act-based cases to tribunal to six months.

The Government Equalities Office said on its website: “This package of measures will not only strengthen protections for those affected by harassment at work, but will also motivate employers to make improvements to workplace practices and culture which will benefit all employees.”

CIPD & TUC weigh in

This news has attracted the attention of the CIPD – the professional body for HR and people development – and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) – a national trade union centre.

Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the CIPD said that there are some key measures that should ensure that firms are clearer about their responsibilities when it comes to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

He said: “In particular, we welcome the intention to create a statutory code of practice for employers, setting out the steps they need to take to prevent and deal with sexual harassment.    

“It is important this highlights the importance of managers being trained to manage people properly and treat all employees with dignity and respect, and to intervene and tackle inappropriate behaviour at an early stage if it occurs.”

Despite this, the CIPD’s Head of Public Policy said that they aren’t convinced that the creation of a new proactive duty on bosses to take reasonable steps to protect workers will “have the desired impact”.

He also said that there’s a risk of “using legislation as a blunt tool”.

“Employers are already required under the law to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of workers by their colleagues.”

Wilmott went onto explain that more can be done to close the gap “regarding the law and its effective implementation in the workplace”.

“Improving employers’ compliance with their existing legal obligations under the Equality Act would make more sense than creating a new duty. 

“Consequently, it was a missed opportunity for Government not to commit to improving enforcement by increasing EHRC resources to enable it to conduct more workplace inspections to investigate complaints and proactively inspect employers in sectors where there is highest risk of sexual harassment,” Wilmott added.

‘Victory for years of campaigning’

The new proposals also attracted the attention of the TUC’s General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, who said that it is a “victory for years of trade union campaigning”.

O’Grady explained: “No one should face sexual harassment at work, but the shocking reality is that most women have. Employers will now have a legal responsibility to protect their staff from sexual harassment.  

“And employers must now protect their workers from all forms of harassment by customers and clients as well as from colleagues."

“This will help stamp out sexual harassment of women workers, and racist and homophobic abuse too. And it will make all public-facing workplaces safer – from shops to surgeries, salons to showrooms.   

“If this is to be a genuine turning point, the Government must change the law swiftly, put more resources into enforcing the new duties, and make sure victims have access to justice,” O’Grady added.

Allegations of sexual harassment

In the last couple of years, several employers have hit headlines regarding allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Back in 2019, Ted Baker’s Founder Ray Kelvin resigned following allegations of misconduct, including claims of “forced hugging”. At the time, the BBC reported that Kelvin denied the claims.

Last year, five executives based within the French video game company Ubisoft, including the firm’s Global Head of HR, resigned from their posts following claims of sexual harassment.

More recently, an employment tribunal heard that an HR Director at Sellafield allegedly “sat on” reports of sexual harassment by a worker, as was initially reported by the BBC.



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